Mother's Milk

Red Hot Chili Peppers

EMI Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


For Anthony Kiedis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, tragedy turned into the best medicine.

In 1988, the band's guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose. The band's regrouping was too much for drummer Jack Irons, who bolted and spent years in obscurity before joining Pearl Jam. Kiedis, himself a heroin addict, cleaned up his act following the death of his friend and bandmate.

But the Chili Peppers, who had wallowed away as an unknown secret since their formation five years previous, used the rebuilding time to craft what I considered to be their best lineup ever. Besides Kiedis and bassist Flea, the band recruited guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, honed their musical and songwriting skills, and finally emerged in 1989 with my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Mother's Milk -- a high-water mark I don't think they've ever achieved again.

The Chili Peppers brink out the funk early and often; the opening number "Good Time Boys" is a tribute to the bands who laid out the road before them and a sign that they were back and ready to claim the funk-rock throne. But their next move was a risky one -- they took on Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." Skeptics could have claimed the band's cover version was a sign that they weren't competent enough songwriters to make it on their own.

Fortunately for the Chilis, not only do they stay close to the bone of the original version, but they also add enough flavor to make it their own -- and it's a great track as a result. (Wonder should also be thankful that the Chili Peppers covered the song, as it helped open new listeners' ears to Wonder's earlier works.) The other cover on this album, a balls-out rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire," sounds like it was a one-off shot that was recorded for fun.

The showpiece of Mother's Milk is "Knock Me Down," a song which celebrates Kiedis's newfound sobriety and asks his fans to put him in his place if they catch him getting wasted again: "If you see me getting by, if you see me getting high / Knock me down / I'm not bigger than life." (Too bad some people didn't take Kiedis seriously; he admitted to using heroin again this year, but seemed repentant about his relapse.)

For every cut which might be seen as a throwaway ("Magic Johnson," "Fire," "Pretty Little Ditty") there is a slab of funk rock which is quite tasty ("Subway To Venus," "Sexy Mexican Maid," "Nobody Weird Like Me"). In fact, only one or two songs on Mother's Milk fail to hit the target, most notably the album's closer "Johnny, Kick A Hole In The Sky" (despite some impressive bass work by Flea).

Despite the power of this album, Mother's Milk still did not prove to be the big breakthrough that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were looking for. (That would come one album later with the smash hit "Under The Bridge.") But Kiedis and crew were able to overcome the shortfalls that had plagued them on previous albums and produce an artistically solid album.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B


© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI Records, and is used for informational purposes only.